As my palate has developed, I’ve gotten over many foods that I had deemed “yucky” in my youth. Now I enjoy things like fish that hasn’t been shaped into a fish stick, for example. But one of the foods still on my “do not eat” list has been certain leafy greens, namely spinach and Swiss chard. At least until now.
Although I think that spinach and chard can be good eats, especially sautéed with a bit of garlic, I’m a little disturbed by the feeling the greens leave on my teeth. You’re probably familiar with it—it’s that chalky, fuzzy feeling. Not very appetizing, right?
After a bit of research, I learned that the feeling is caused by a substance known as oxalic acid, which is found in higher levels in greens like spinach, chard, rhubarb, and beet leaves. An article on Chow explained that chewing these foods releases the acid, which combines with the calcium in your saliva to create calcium oxalate crystals. That’s what you feel on your teeth. (How’s that for being a food nerd!)
This leads me to my revelation: I am convinced, although I have not found any scientific evidence or documentation whatsoever, that lemon juice neutralizes oxalic acid, or at least somehow prevents it from adhering to my teeth. And I have Biba to thank for this discovery. The first amuse bouche I had at the restaurant was sautéed Swiss chard with fresh lemon juice, among other flavors. And I was astounded when I didn’t experience fuzzy-teeth syndrome after eating it. On subsequent visits to the restaurant, I’ve had various incarnations of this dish as sides or appetizers, all with the same result.
And so I concocted the recipe below, based on my favorite of the sautéed greens I’ve had at Biba. It’s easy to vary the recipe if you’re not in the mood for raisins (substitute something more savory like capers) or you have mature spinach or chard instead of baby greens (just chop or tear the big leaves so they’re the size of baby spinach). You can even top it with a cooked egg (poached, sautéed, chopped hard boiled, etc.) for a more substantial dish, although I would substitute out the raisins if you do that.
Wilted Baby Spinach With Golden Raisins
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
5 to 6 oz. package of baby spinach
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 lemon, halved
Grey salt and freshly ground pepper
Although packaged baby spinach is prewashed, lightly sprinkle the leaves with water and set aside until ready to use. This will help with wilting later on.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the garlic and sweat for about 30 seconds or until fragrant, being careful not to burn. Immediately add the spinach leaves and raisins and toss gently. Continue to toss occasionally until spinach is wilted.
Transfer to a serving plate and season to taste with salt, pepper, and freshly squeezed lemon juice (you probably won’t need the entire lemon, depending on your preference).